Dr. Rhonda Davis and Julie Cole met at The King’s University and founded the Women in Ministry Leadership (WIML) program. This program aims to empower and support women who are called to leadership positions in ministry.
In this episode of the Women in Ministry Leadership Podcast, hosts Dr. Rhonda Davis and Julie Cole discuss odds and ends within WIML, including their relationship, the creation of WIML, their personal growth as leaders, and their efforts to foster a supportive environment for leadership development, rather than a competitive one.
Julie Cole: Hey, everyone. The WIML was birthed out of some conversations that Rhonda and I had with another group of women that cared about women in ministry leadership, and we thought maybe it would be fun to sit around the table and let you in on some of these conversations, which we’re kind of scared about. But we welcome you to this next segment where Rhonda and I kind of talk about odds and ends that are on our minds about women in ministry leadership. Enjoy. Sometimes I think about the history of our relationship and where we are today compared to where we started. Do you remember how we met?
Rhonda Davis: How did we meet?
Julie: Well, we were at-
Rhonda: We were at the house, right? At the party at the beginning of the year.
Julie: Dr. Cassie Reed had a gathering at her home, and you had just accepted your position here.
Julie: I remember my husband saying to me, “That’s Rhonda Davis.” I was like, “Is she a student?” I was thinking you were a graduate student. He said, “No, she just accepted the new …” I knew that we would be in the same area, so I went over and introduced myself and thought how young you looked.
Rhonda: Oh, great.
Julie: You were very friendly but that was kind of the end of that until I came up and visited you in your office one day and I’d had a dream about you.
Rhonda: That’s right. That’s right. So we went from nothing at the party to-
Julie: I at least met you.
Rhonda: To I’m dreaming about you in the evening.
Julie: Right, right.
Julie: But it was powerful.
Julie: I had a dream that you had a bunch of coats that other people were putting on you, and you were having a hard time walking, and I knew that was about all the responsibility that was being heaped on you. So I got my brave pants on, walked upstairs to your office and told you I had a dream about you.
Rhonda: And that’s what I needed to hear. It gave me the courage to start sifting through what those responsibilities were and what needed to stay on and what I needed to take off.
Julie: So it wasn’t long after that I was promoted to a position where we worked-
Rhonda: Very closely.
Julie: … With each other all the time on the same team. But my personality is the type that I’m going to uninvite myself to make sure that I’m not disappointed when I’m not invited. Let’s just get this over with.
Julie: And you have always been sure to invite me and even call me up to positions that I would never have given myself.
Rhonda: And I can stop by and talk to you when I feel like I’m in over my head. So sometimes I’ll rush out of the front line and I’m ready to go, and you’re able to kind of help me find balance and really listen to the spirit again, really.
Julie: Yeah. I like to say you’re Batman and I’m Robin.
Rhonda: Yeah, that’s true.
Julie: I have to be the sidekick. I can’t be the main role because I have to uninvite myself. But I think about that first time we met and you know how when you look back at your life, at things that have happened. If I had known what an important person I was meeting, that was going to be in my timeline, but you don’t always know when you’re meeting people that you’re going to be working with and that are going to be dear friends and coworkers.
Julie: For quite a season.
Rhonda: Yeah. So being courageous enough to make the first step really. Yeah. It’s been a lot of fun as we’ve developed the program here at TKU, as we’ve worked on this podcast together, done a lot of learning together and a lot of listening to the voice of female leaders that are listening to this podcast, or students that come through asking questions about their own calling. I think it’s helped me to refine and understand more and more about the vast ways, creative ways, that the spirit speaks to people and what courageous yeses these women are giving in all these kind of contexts.
Even the interviews that we’ve had on the podcast have been inspiring to me. You’re talking about women who are sometimes in more hostile contexts, or are leaving and going internationally, or are even afraid to speak out. I think God is calling me to pastor. Can I say that? All of that has just been such an amazing, amazing journey. Yeah.
Julie: What’s been your favorite thing that’s happened through this program, Women In Ministry Leadership?
Rhonda: Wow. I think kind of what I was saying about that courageous yes from women of all ages, all generations, that, man, learning to appreciate the new and different ways God is calling women and empowering them. That there’s not just one way. It’s not just ministering to women, women’s ministry. There’s more than that. God is really empowering women to make a difference in lots of different areas.
So I think just being able to cheer them on, creating an environment. I don’t know what you think about this, but it’s been awesome in a culture, in a society, right now where I feel like it’s popular to empower women. That’s a popular thing to be doing for organizations, to be empowering women and see them in our culture.
Julie: In you culture.
Rhonda: Yeah. Strong girls, brave girls, all this. We’re kind of rising in this way. But to create something where I believe women should be empowered to do whatever God is asking them to do, but they should also develop that muscle of cheering one another on, where there isn’t so much competition. That’s been one of my favorite things.
Julie: I was thinking the same thing. A specific example, our team that leads the Women In Ministry Leadership program, we enjoy going out for burgers after the retreat is done and we’re celebrating a successful event. And one of our newer team members, the second year we went, we were all enjoying chili cheese fries.
Rhonda: Bacon fries.
Julie: Bacon, and just heap it on. And she was marveling. She said, “I would’ve never been able to have kind of messy, fattening food at a women’s gathering.” And we’re like, mouths open, chewing.
Rhonda: That’s so sad for you.
Julie: Like, “Why not?”
Julie: We’re so sorry. But we really do love each other, and we’re not jealous about someone getting a chance to talk or share. We look for ways to plug each other into where our gifts are most strong. So I love this team.
Rhonda: Why do you think that is such a unique experience to be a part of a group of women that are able to champion others on and cheer each other on? I’ve been in other environments where that was less so, but why do we do that?
Julie: Well, it’s that believing that there’s a limited amount.
Rhonda: There’s so only so much power to go around, so I have to snatch mine and keep it from you.
Julie: Yep. But you are good at sharing power, and I have to say that your leadership has helped to birth that.
Rhonda: Oh, I thank you for that.
Julie: Because if you have a leader that believes that there’s only so much power, he or she is going to grab whatever they feel they need.
Rhonda: Whatever there is.
Julie: And then everybody else figures out how they’re going to scrounge with the leftovers.
Rhonda: And I think that can lead into more and more scarcity. Right? So if I think there’s only so much power, so I have to grab it and keep it from you, then I’m not going to be generous with anything else in my life. And man, I feel like we get bigger when we make other people bigger, so I hope that continues.
Julie: And with that, we can invite our sisters to come along and there’s enough. What I love about our program too is we invite our brothers in Christ. Let’s serve side by side. This isn’t a competition. We’re not trying to be better than you.
Julie: We want to co-labor.
Rhonda: Yeah. Yeah. Which is kingdom, right?
Julie: Yeah, very.
Rhonda: I’m not wanting to lead in instead of a man. I’m just wanting to lead with my brothers too. Yeah. That’s been a lot of fun to see.
Julie: We talk about how it works so well with our team? Have you ever been a part of a team where men and women were a part of it, and it really didn’t matter if the man was leading or the woman was leading? It just worked.
Rhonda: Worked that way?
Rhonda: I feel like I’m kind of on a team like that. I guess I would say that the teams that aren’t way tend to be made up of insecure leaders. There’s insecurities about other things in leadership. It’s not just about men and women, but it’s just about insecure leadership. So the more secure that we can be and acknowledge. I know I am very aware of the weaknesses that I have. I’m also aware of the strengths I bring to a table, and that causes me to identify what your strengths are. So where do you add to this?
But that can only be done when we are secure in who we are and the way we’re designed. So whenever we’re less secure about that, or it seems like we all have to clamor to please one particular person or something like that, the whole thing comes apart, whether it’s a group of women, a group of men, or men and women leaning together.
So I think a discipline is to really identify and name. A couple episodes ago, we talked about naming the leadership and calling out the gifts of other people. I think that’s true any time we lead, so any team that we’re on, somebody has to have the courage to say, “I’m not as good at this. You are. Could we partner together in leading this?”
Julie: And that doesn’t have to be threatening.
Rhonda: Right. It doesn’t have to be threatening or diminishing to either person. I really actually see that more often when it’s just women leading together. There’s this fear of, I should be able to do everything. I’m the leader. I should have all the gifts. I should know exactly what to do, and if I invite you to do something, you’re going to show up and show out, and they’re not going to want me as much. So it’s more likely to happen that way.
Ad Break: Hey there. The Women In Ministry Leadership programs available here at The King's University are near and dear to our heart. They include leadership training and dialogue on tough issues facing women in ministry leadership, small group mentoring, and an annual spiritual retreat. The Center for Women In Ministry Leadership supports female students earning degrees at TKU and is designed as a gathering place for women to experience personal and spiritual growth while navigating ministry leadership. Along with that, undergraduates are invited to join a leadership program, including retreats, and small group and graduate students can add the WIML concentration to their degree. Visit tku.edu/wiml for more information.
Julie: You’ve worked for lots of different leaders. You’ve had lots of different positions and roles in your life. How did your knowledge that there’s just more than enough, we’re not functioning out of a lack of power. How did that develop in you?
Rhonda: Man, I think I’ve seen places where ministries and people got derailed because of this tight hold kind of scarcity thing. And I, somewhere along the line, decided that I didn’t want to be that, I guess, that I think there’s enough. I think there’s enough. I’ve had awesome voices in my life that gave me room. And I’ve also seen God just bless places and people that were open with their lives, and so I want to be open with my life. Maybe that’s it. I’m not really sure. That’s a great question.
Also, once you get a taste of championing someone on and really get that, really igniting a fire in somebody else to go and do, there’s nothing like that. I mean, that’s just quite a dopamine hit. Like, you are killing it. That’s awesome. I don’t know you. What about you?
Julie: Which question?
Rhonda: I mean, you are very gracious and open. You have an open life. You are willing to share. Where did that come from?
Julie: Oh, I live wanting people to know they have a place at the table, because I have been places where I was not invited. I talked about I uninvite myself, because it’s so painful to me in those places where I’m not. So I just kind of beat them to the punch so they can’t hurt me so bad. But when I’ve been in places where I have been, and I don’t need the role, the lead role, but where my opinion matters, my voice will be heard and considered. That’s a dopamine hit for me to feel like I’m a part of a team. There’s something about team that’s really wonderful for me.
Rhonda: Yeah. And see, we’re different. And so I love to see you operate in your gift. You are always encouraging to me to operate in mine. So I think that’s really important.
Julie: It’s when I’m at a place where an orchestra is playing, I have a hard time not crying because it’s all the roles coming together to make one big sound. That’s what I imagine Kingdom. If we would all really be able to show up and be who we are, the amazing sound that happens. And I’m living for that. I’m living toward that. That’s what charges me up.
Rhonda: And I also love being able to laugh when we mess up, or laugh on the daily. Right? When, oh my goodness, I just did something stupid. And just being able to normalize that, like everybody makes mistakes. We’re all showing up who we are. We’re understanding who we are. We can be secure in that and also not take ourselves too seriously.
Julie: Well, that’s another huge thing though, that there’s permission to make a mistake. We can even laugh about it and start over, or it might give birth to a better idea.
Rhonda: Yeah. I love that.
Julie: What do you think has made you the leader that you are today? What’s a theme or a strand that you see that’s really formed you? You mentioned seeing people with a poverty kind of mentality about power. Are there any other things?
Rhonda: Yeah. Well, man, I think honestly, when I was really starting out and was a young learning leader, I was kind of having this idea of, you know what, I’m just who I am, and you just get what you get. So just tough it up, whatever. And I don’t think I took the time to see into people and really, really see what God saw. And that was coming from a place of insecurity. To me, I had to be super decisive and this is just at all costs, success at all costs.
And really it’s been in the last few years of opening my heart and mind and dreams to the work of the spirit, being involved with spiritual direction and learning to let… This sounds so stupid… but really letting Jesus see all the way in me, letting him capture my heart. And I don’t have to constantly be in motion. I don’t have to constantly be meeting a particular outcome. What if he is the outcome? Just rightly placing that.
That has turned me upside down. It’s turned me upside down to really, it sounds so simple, but God designed us the way we are, and we all have a multitude of gifts. But man, really getting to a place where I am fully open to the work of the spirit, and I can’t wait for him to put his finger on a place that he wants to develop in my life, has just allowed me to stop and breathe a little bit and stop trying to prove so much.
And I’m just so grateful. I’m upside down from probably when I started in the things that were important to me.
Julie: Yeah, I mean, I’ve basically known you for this kind of living full bloom into your gift because of where you’ve discovered life in the spirit.
Ad Break: My name is Jelani Lewis, and I'm a campus pastor at Gateway Church and a student at The King's University. God can open doors anyway that he wants to, but one of the ways that he opens doors is through education. We should love the Lord God with all of our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength. This is a part of me loving God with my mind. Education and experience combination is absolutely pivotal for that growth. What is God saying to you right now, and what does it look like for you to be faithful? Education is key in that process.
Rhonda: What about you?
Julie: I have had more of an awareness that I don’t care as much about whether people will like me or not, and that’s huge because then I feel empowered or bold enough to say, “No, this is what we’re going to do because it’s the right thing to do.” Whereas before I might have, “Well, I don’t really, I’m not really the one in power.” So I would defer.
Rhonda: Both of those are security things. You can rest in that I can hear God and I can know what the right thing is to do. If it bombs and we mess up, it’s on me. But I can feel confident about making that decision from you and me just being able to sit and not have to prove or work up or generate anything. It’s so much about just being comfortable in our own skin.
Julie: Yeah. Yeah. Mine is about believing that I have something to contribute myself. I talked about how much it meant when someone else would believe that.
Julie: I need to believe it about myself and then voice It.
Rhonda: Yeah. I don’t know if that comes with years, if it comes with, I don’t know.
Julie: Maybe it comes with getting old.
Rhonda: Yeah. I wish I could learn that more quickly. I wish that would’ve happened. But I think all the way around, especially for women in leadership being comfortable in our skin, literally being comfortable in our skin, coming to terms with that, and in our design internally, it’s just such a huge help. My husband also, too, has done a lot for me and just saying, “Rhonda, just rest in that, just rest in that. Trust your gut. Listen to the Lord.” Him, and other voices too, but yeah. Yeah.
Julie: Husbands are great when they’re You’re cheerleaders.
Julie: And mine has been too. “You can do this. Do it.”
Rhonda: Yeah. Yeah. I wish that for everybody.
Julie: What else should we talk about?
Rhonda: I don’t know.
Julie: One thing that’s interesting to me about you is, I mean, I see you as a role model for a woman in executive leadership, but when you were raising your family, there was a season when you stayed home with your boys.
Rhonda: Yep, there was.
Julie: And not everybody would expect that and you have both.
Rhonda: Well, I wasn’t great at it. I wasn’t great at it. I did it out of obedience, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. That was the season that I was in. But yeah, I wasn’t great at it. I always wished that I would be great at it, like the moms who have perfectly crafted lunches in the shape of dinosaurs and crafts every day.
Julie: I thought it was a win when my kids got a lunch.
Rhonda: I was more like, “Did I shower, or not?” It really was just… I’m grateful they lived through it. But it was a season. I don’t regret it. It also didn’t keep me from moving forward.
Julie: No. I think that’s a really great thing. Mine was the same. I was home most of the time when my kids were growing up. My husband and I tag teamed where maybe I’d teach a night class when he was home, or as my older two got older, they could babysit the younger two, so I could go do a little bit of counseling. That’s like a game changer, isn’t it? Or when you have your first driver.
Julie: But those years that I was mostly at home, I am reaping the fruit from now because there’s experiences I had in living with my kids and them getting to know me that we can rely on now.
Now, I’m not saying that moms at work full-time won’t have that. I’m just saying that’s something that I see that God did in our family, and in that season. I was oftentimes thinking, “What am I doing with my life? What am I doing with my life?” Day-in, day-out, you get up, you make the breakfast, you do this, you do that. It builds, and you’re building a foundation that you’re not going to be sorry you built.
Rhonda: And that desire doesn’t go away. There’s still times that the Lord gives me a little nudge and says, “Hey, you need to get a little bit closer to home. You’ve got priorities a little out of wack here.” And it’s a constant tension that you’re managing all the time, but I’m grateful for those years. I’m also grateful for the years that I’ve been able to really be all-in for what I felt like God was doing in ministry. Understanding and recognizing that those seasons ebb and flow, I think is really important.
Julie: My youngest daughter wrote a sweet magazine article about her memories of growing up on a college campus, and how she just knew that’s where her mom and dad worked, and now she brings her daughter, they live here in town, to a college campus where her grandma and grandpa work, and I just thought, “Well, praise God that that’s a good memory for you.” I wasn’t always sure it would be. But as we just incorporate our families and work the best balance that we feel we can, I think good fruit comes from it.
Rhonda: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, guys, thanks for listening in on our conversation today, some odds and ends from Julie and I. And we just want you to know that we’re praying blessing over you today. Wherever you are, wherever you’re listening, if you’re in your car, if you’re at work, if you’re the one that’s just trying to get to the shower a little bit later today, we are just praying for you and we want to bring you into our conversations, just about life and God and what he’s doing in us and through us, and we’d love to hear from you, what he’s doing in and through you too. So we’ll talk to you next time.